When you think of an easy way to prevent the spread of infections, you might think of what everyone learns when they are a child- to wash their hands thoroughly to get rid of germs and prevent spreading them. In a hospital setting you would think that this would carry over as well, and that hand washing would be the first step in the line of defense in hospital infection control. However, the CDC estimates that healthcare workers are only washing their hands half as often as they should be to prevent the spread of healthcare acquired infections (HAI).
The CDC states that 1 in 25 people become ill with a healthcare acquired infection every day, and proper hand washing whenever needed is an important step in the chain of infection control to prevent these HAIs. Healthcare workers should be washing their hands every single time they touch something that isn’t sterile, which can include used equipment and instruments, after dealing with an infectious patient, and even computers, phones and touching their own face.
The World Health Organization outlines handwashing in six steps that have been shown to be the most effective at removing the highest number of bacteria, viruses and other hazardous microbes:
Rub your palms against each other
Rub the back of each hand against your palms.
Rub your palms together with your fingers interlaced
Rub your palms against each other while your fingers are interlocked
Rub your fingers around each of your thumbs
Rub each palm with the tips your fingers
Some hospitals have even begun instituting “Handshake Free Zones” to help prevent the spread of infections through hand contact. In certain areas where patients are at high risk of infection, a handshake can contaminate an otherwise clean hand, and pose an infection risk to the patient.
A study found that just 5% of the general public wash their hands long enough to kill germs, with a third of people not even using soap when they washed up. If a medical professional with clean hands shakes hands with someone who is part of that 95% of people with unwashed hands, they are now contaminated and at risk of spreading healthcare acquired infections.